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Two Major Reasons to Switch from Interactive Whiteboards to Interactive Flat Panels

The technology leaders of a Florida district explain why they upgraded their front-of-class solution. By Joe Binswanger and Todd Alexander

Sarasota County Schools first adopted interactive whiteboards in 2004 in a few middle and high school classrooms. We completed districtwide adoption in more than 3,000 schools in 2007. Interactive whiteboards provided an opportunity for teachers to interact with their students and relate to their curriculum in a dynamic way, while providing a bridge to a multitude of digital instructional resources at the tip of their stylus. Teachers could also extend instruction beyond the class period by emailing or printing lessons to share with students and parents at any time.

That being said, there were two primary driving factors in our recent decision to make the transition from interactive whiteboards to interactive flat panels:

1) Access to advanced technology: The interactive flat panels take advantage of the technological advances we’ve seen in tablet devices. Those touch-screen capabilities are magnified on an interactive display whose functionality is similar to that of a tablet. Our students are used to using multi-touch displays in their everyday life, so we believe this should be the case in our classrooms as well. Also, the quality of the image displayed on the interactive flat panels was exponentially better than what we had seen on the whiteboards (no more turning off the lights to see the display!). The image quality also does not degrade over time, as we had seen with the projectors used in our classrooms.

2) Long-term cost: Ongoing cost was a major consideration in this decision. As a district, we had already gone through one complete round of replacing bulbs and projectors on the interactive whiteboard units. By moving to an interactive panel, we could redirect the funds that had been allocated to pay those significant ongoing maintenance costs to other areas. Interactive panels also use less electricity, which is a great benefit for the environment and the district.

Choosing and Implementing the Right Display

Once the district made the decision to move to interactive displays, an evaluation team consisting of teachers and school-based leaders from all levels was assembled to evaluate the various interactive displays on the market at the time. Through an extensive evaluation process, the team unanimously selected the Promethean ActivPanel as the best option for Sarasota County classrooms.

To train more than 3,000 teachers to use the new panels, we took a multitude of approaches. We provided face-to-face training along with self-paced and instructor-led online courses. Training topics varied from general “how-to’s” to specific curriculum-focused applications.  Moving forward, much of our professional development will focus on Promethean’s ClassFlow interactive learning and collaboration software. Using ClassFlow, coupled with technologies such as WiDi, will help our teachers connect the interactive flat panel to a wide variety of student devices from laptops to newer tablets and phones. 

The Impact on Teaching and Learning

For us, the biggest and most obvious functional difference between interactive panels and whiteboards is having 10 simultaneous points of touch. One of our favorite pictures hanging in our offices right now shows four third-graders racing to solve a math problem at the same time on the interactive display.

Teachers now have much greater flexibility in how their classroom is arranged. They can also connect multiple devices through the various HDMI ports and WiDi adaptors. The interactive flat panel is a digital hub that allows the teacher to switch between student devices being displayed, to access and display digital textbook resources, to connect a document camera for demonstration purposes for the entire class to see…and the list goes on.

The ActivPanel also molds to each teacher’s individual teaching styles. The day may begin with “morning work” being displayed for students to work on before class starts, then switch to the morning school news being broadcast through IPTV, then to a ClassFlow card of the standards being covered that day, then to small-group work with student-driven activities.

Teachers can now instantly save an activity digitally, which can be shared with parents to demonstrate areas in which their child could use additional support, or how their child’s performance compares with that of his or her classmates.

For students, a brighter and more legible display means no struggling just to see what’s on the projector. When the teacher calls on them, the interactive flat panel frees students to use the tools with which they are most comfortable, whether that is touch, a digital pen, or a wireless keyboard. All the knowledge, skill, and comfort that kids have with smartphones and tablets transfers to the panel—a tremendous advantage for our students as well.

The benefit to our staff is simple and powerful: We now spend less time on maintaining and troubleshooting boards and projectors, and more time on activities that have a greater impact on our students.

To other districts considering a change to their front-of-class solution, we would say this: You need to have a clear purpose of why you are making this decision. If you don’t, the new technology will become just another “gadget” in the classroom that may or may not make an impact. Sarasota County Schools wants our staff and students to have access to current technologies that provide opportunities for them to interact with digital curriculum resources in a meaningful way. The interactive flat panel provides a central place for teachers to connect their instruction to their curriculum and to help their “digitally native” students learn as they learn best—with the tools they use in their lives every day. The ActivPanel met our teaching and learning needs, and that is why we made our decision.

This article was originally published by our content partner K-12 TechDecisions.

Photo source: Promethean World

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